Slowing down parenting
“We’ve turned modern parenting into a cross between a competitive sport and product development.”
Those are the words of Carl Honoré, writer, speaker and slow parenting proponent. He argues that the hyperparenting of recent years isn’t producing better results for our children and that we need to re-examine our priorities.
So what is hyperparenting?
“The instinct to push our children, to make the most of them has always been there. What has changed in the last generation is that the pressure for perfection is all-consuming,” he said. He argues that the consumer culture in which we live has the effect of creating high expectations: we now want perfect teeth, perfect hair, a perfect body, perfect vacations, a perfect home – and perfect children to round off the portrait. “As parents we feel immense pressure to give our children the best of everything and make them the best at everything – to give them a ‘perfect’ childhood.”
But it isn’t just the consumer culture that’s behind this trend. Carl argues that modern demographics also play a part.
“Smaller families mean we have more time and money to lavish on each child and parents are more anxious because small families give them less experience of parenting and put their genetic eggs in fewer baskets,” he explained. The trend to older parents also contributes to the hyperparenting trend. “If your first pregnancy comes at 38 or 39, then you may well have spent long years fretting over and planning for the child. And if something goes wrong you may not be able to have another one to make up for it. So there is a built-in anxiety from the start,” he said.
Our years of corporate life also give us an approach to parenthood that can make us more likely to take a hyperparenting approach because we end up importing the office ethos into the home. “We think, ‘Well, how can we parent better? Why don’t we do what we do at work when we want to improve our performance: bring in the experts, spend lots of money and put in long hard hours – we will professionalise parenting’,” said Carl.
The effect on our kids
While all of this is done in the hopes of making our children more successful, hyperparenting can have the opposite effect. “Children who have had every moment of their lives micromanaged, organised, supervised and scheduled by adults will later find it hard to stand on their own two feet. In other words they never grow up,” said Carl.
“Children need to learn gradually to cope with risk, fear and failure,” he explained. “If you wrap them in cotton wool, they grow up thinking the world owes them a free and easy ride. Discovering that life is harder than that can come as a huge shock if it comes all once. That is one reason that university students are going to pieces in record numbers around the world. After a childhood spent in a gilded cage placed a pedestal, they emerge from the family home unable to handle the rough and tumble of real life.”
How to slow down and slowly parent
If the idea of a more relaxed approach to parenting sounds like something you’d like to try, Carl offers these 10 tips on how to slow down and slowly parent.
1. Hold regular Calendar Nights to discuss the family schedule and avoid clashes and overload.
2. Ration screen time and set up at least one screen-free zone in the home.
3. Schedule unscheduled time for doing whatever takes your fancy when the moment arrives: playing a game, chatting, pottering or firing up the BBQ.
4. Designate some family outings technology-free.
5. Put children in charge of the family schedule for a day or longer to identify which activities really matter to them – and consider dropping the rest.
6. Spend more time in nature: forests, parks, allotments, the beach.
7. Build in a few more minutes between activities to avoid rushing from one thing to the next.
8. Embed slow rituals – walking, baking, gardening, doing old-fashioned puzzles – in the family calendar.
9. Stop reading parenting advice for a week so you can figure out what works best for your family rather than worrying about what everyone else is doing.
10. Get up a little earlier in the morning (it’s worth it, trust me!) so you have enough time to start the day in a more relaxed groove.
Find more family activities
This article was originally written by Margaret Rafferty for Kidspot.com.au and adapted for Kidspot - New Zealand's most comprehensive parenting resource.